Medellin : Parque Explora

A dinosaur behind a tree at Parque Explora
Surprises lurk around every corner in Medellin

It’s our third day in Medellin and we’re on a mission. Four stops north of our hotel at San Antonio lies University station. There, we’ve read, are the beautiful Medellin botanical gardens, home to flora from every Colombian climate, a magnificent orchid garden, and even a butterfly house. Empandas on the go for breakfast, we climb the steps of San Antonio station and stop in confusion – the train we need is on the other side of the tracks, with no apparent way to get there. Our lost looks catch the attention of a friendly local man who stops his commute just to help get us on our way. Safely on board, we travel the four stops to University and hop off.

Just outside the station is a cluster of public works and spaces. On one side are the botanical gardens, neighbored by Parque Explora – an interactive museum – and Parque Norte – home to a huge pond and a startling number of Christmas lights for the holiday festivities. On the other are a mall with accompanying food court, and next to it an outdoor stage for public concerts.

The entrance to Parque Explora
An illusion at the front of Parque Explora

Our planned route is to go to the gardens, spend an hour or two, then check out the museum and head to another part of the city. Outside the gardens we find a small group of would-be visitors milling around. The fruit vendor nearby tells everyone the gardens are closed, just for today, for a special event. The security guard confirms. Our disappointment quickly abates as we head over to the Parque Explora and look around.

Natalie climbs the outdoor rock wall
Natalie climbs the outdoor rock wall

The front of the building is a garden with interactive exhibits demonstrating basic physics, dinosaurs, and even a rock wall. Despite the slightly higher tourist price we decide to go in and play. Standing waves, levers and pulleys, projectile motion, angular momentum, they’re all found here in the playground that is the outside of the museum. We move from station to station, pulling on handles, spinning wheels, shooting water jets. The stations that move you quickly – the human sized gyroscope and the standing spinner, are manned by friendly volunteers who explain the physics behind the effect and make sure you step off impressed.

A school of blue and orange fish at the Parque Explora Aquarium
A colorful school of fish at the aquarium

For a change of pace we enter the calm and dim environment of the museum’s aquarium – included in our ticket! Fish swim past large windows while touch-screen terminals display information about the animals. Tourists and locals mingle quietly in the blue-lit halls, most gazing silently at the schools of fish, some running and yelling when they find Nemo. A large central tank full of tuna and giant catfish dominates the first floor, and a staircase leading up gives another view of the large fish inside.

A chameleon at the reptile house
Here’s lookin’ at you! A chameleon at the reptile house.

Above the aquarium we find the reptile house and the main exhibit halls. The first continues the physics theme from outside, expanding on light, sound, and energy, all interactively. Changing your world view are sets of googles, each with the lenses mounted far apart and in various configurations. A wind tunnel takes you through to a category 4 storm, and upstairs friction and balance are demonstrated in a slippery beam crossing. Tired from testing our jumping and pulling abilities, we eat a quick soup-based lunch and head to the second exhibit hall, focused on the mind.

Dancing in front of a color-separating screen
Dancing in front of a color-separating screen

Displays showcase what different animals would look like if their body was sized according to how much sensory information each part provided. A giant blown up brain and explanations of its sections take up the center of the first floor, and ants and mice crawl through nests and mazes demonstrating different animal behaviors. A volunteer joins us to explain the exhibits – a student from the university nearby, studying physics and engineering. In English and Spanish, he and Natalie have a long and entertaining conversation on the similarity of science words between the languages and on the state of education locally and abroad. He tells us not to miss the mind-bending tunnel upstairs, and we’re glad we didn’t. A whirling kaleidoscope of lights tricks your brain into perceiving rotation while the walkway underneath you sits perfectly still, resulting in a wonderfully comical wobbly walk across the tunnel – one that I took several times.

A still shot of the rotating colors in the tunnel
A still shot of the rotating colors in the tunnel

Nearly exhausted from the now full day of museum going, we pass through the last exhibit, Time. Except for the room of giant proportions, meant to simulate the experience of being a child again, the rest of the exhibits are generally a bit complicated for our level of Spanish, and our tired state does not permit a close study. We hopefully will return when our language skills have improved.

Outside, night has fallen. The local food stalls have opened, but we were directed away from them by the museum staff, on the idea that they might make us sick. This led us to mall food, and an after dinner trip through the stalls confirmed that, as always, the best food is found on the street. Full, we vowed to come back and sample the delicious dishes and desserts on offer. For now we head to the Christmas festivities in Parque Norte, which Natalie wrote about here.

 

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